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Build a Wire
Written By: Riley Porter
• Hand saw (1)
This is only needed if you're planning on
creating 90-degree angles to mount
Arduino Uno (1)
Arduino grblShield (1)
Bipolar Stepper Motor (3)
NEMA 23s are good. Doesn't have to be
23s. I used 17s
Fishing Line (1)
Box of Zip Ties (1)
Ping pong ball (1)
4-40 screw (1)
PVC pipe and elbows (1)
Or whatever materials you use to build
When you hear the word "wirebot," you likely think of those cameras racing along wires
above sporting events, unobtrusively capturing amazing action footage. Our wirebot will be
quite a bit simpler, and a lot cheaper, however it offers quite a few cool possibilities.
Some of these applications include things like specialized holiday light displays or perhaps a
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wicked witch flying around the front yard on Halloween. My son wants to make a Star Wars
TIE fighter flight path on the ceiling of his room using this type of wirebot.
For my version here, I used a 24" x 24" x 24" 3D cube made of PVC pipe as the frame for
my rig. This limits the "working area" to about 8" x 8" x 8." This size is good for
demonstration purposes only. You'll likely want to build a rig that affords a much larger
This concept behind this wirebot can be difficult to grasp. A more comprehensive
explanation can be found in this blog post on my website. Special thanks to Alden Hart, my
partner in crime on this project. Without him, figuring out the math for this it would not have
This guide assumes that you already have your stepper motors wired correctly and hooked
up to the grblShield and that you are familiar with the grbl CNC framework. Should you need
more information about grbl, or the grblShield, you can find everything you need here .
» This project is brought to you by element14 . Element14 is an information portal and
online community for electrical engineers.
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You will need to find your three spots for each point of the "triangle". Choose a good space
to work in (like an open porch), and mount the motors at each point of the triangle, or
"vertices." In my setup, I used a very small working volume. I have used a 24" x 24" x 24"
PVC cube. My setup is more or less an equilateral triangle. This is to illustrate a clear
example. You can, however, use any type of triangle. For example, you could use part of
your house and two trees in your yard. Or perhaps stakes in the ground, etc.
The drawing shows the establishment of the triangles and motor attachment points and the
resulting "working volume."
The third image shows the finished rig with motors attached (detailed in Step 2).
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• Now you need to attach the stepper motors to the 3 vertices you selected (the three points
of the triangle). First, make sure your motors are all wired up before trying to attach them.
I used CAT-5 cable to wire mine to the grblShield.
• Make sure that the motor shafts face the same direction, meaning all facing clockwise or
counter-clockwise. (See drawing in step 1.)
• You need to wrap your line around your motor shafts now. For best results, the string
should come off the spool pointing roughly towards the center, but any reasonable angle
will do. I wound the strings so they feed off the top of the spools. I laser-cut some
"spools;" however, you can use a 1/2" wooden dowel from a hardware store cut and drilled
instead. The size of your working volume will dictate the size of your spools. If you have a
very large working volume (think: your front yard), you are going to want to create spools
that are much larger in diameter.
• I used some hardboard with some laser-cut holes. However, a drill and some right-angle
cuts will work just fine.
• For "mounting," I chose to ziptie the motors, but you might want to use a permanent
mounting for your setup.
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Setting up your Verticies (0 12 12)
Now we need to set up the
verticies. This is not as
complicated at is sounds. Look at
the picture to get a clearer
understanding. We need to set up
all 3 vertices: V1 , V2 and V3. You
will need a measuring tape for this
This is easier if you have your lines
tied together and attached to
something. I used a ping-pong ball.
Tie all three lines together in a
simple knot. Then use a knife point
to create a very small hole in the
ball. In this hole, you will insert a
screw to keep the line attached to
the ball. Make sure the hole is a bit
smaller than the screw. I used a 4-
40 screw. Once the hole is done,
insert the knot into the ball then
screw the screw into the ball,
trapping the line inside.
The wirebot coordinate system has
an X, Y, Z origin (0,0,0) in the
middle of the volume. Positive X
moves to the right, positive Y
moves towards the back, and
positive Z moves up. To set up the
vertices, determine the position of
each vertex relative to the origin.
Measure the vertex offset in X
(left/right), Y (backwards/forwards)
and Z (up/down) dimensions from
an origin point in the center of the
volume. Measure from the origin to
the center of each spool.
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In our drawing, you will see that
from V1 to the origin (0,0,0) is 12"
on the X axis (Left to Right). 12" on
the Y axis (front to back) and 12"
on the Z" axis (down). Do the same
measurements for your vertices
and record them. We'll put these
into the Python driving program.
One last thing to note: The V3
vertex will have a in the X axis,
as it is aligned with the origin
The above example ^^
assumes the vertices are all * -
at the same height, but they don't
have to be. Just enter the actual
height from the origin. The example
also assumes that the rear vertex
is halfway between the left and
right in X (centered), but it doesn't
have to be.
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• You can download the Python driving program here .
• Once its downloaded, you'll need to edit the source code to adjust the vertices to your
recorded vertices from Step 3. I have detailed the settings that need to be changed in the
• To run the program you'll need the Python interpreter .
• To run the wirebot program, you run Python wirebot .py.
• If everything was configured properly in the wirebot. py script, then your bot should start
moving straight up and down. This is a config mode. It helps to ensure that your motors
are facing the right direction and your grblShield/motor connections are working properly.
• Here are some images I drew using my wirebot. I inserted an LED throwie into the ping
pong ball and then used an overexposure on my camera in the dark to illustrate the exact
path my ball was taking.
• Here is a video of the wirebot in operation.
For Arduino news, features, tutorials, a buyer's guide, and more, visit the Make: Arduino page .
This document was last generated on 201 2-1 1-011 2:21 :03 AM.
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